A ‘New’ Herbert Bayer Sculpture
The Bauhaus master’s ‘Four Chromatic Gates’ is a road trip-worthy attraction in Denver
A new, road trip-worthy Herbert Bayer sculpture was unveiled recently in Denver, adding to a growing presence for the Bauhaus master and Aspen icon in the capital city.
Titled “Four Chromatic Gates,” it stands 16 feet tall at the Alameda light rail station in the growing Broadway Park development and utilizes several of Bayer’s aesthetic signatures: it is geometrical and functional, its four nested steel rectangles painted in primary yellow, red and white – topped by the tallest in signature “Bayer blue.”
It’s situated prominently in a plaza within the ongoing mixed-use development, just just north of Broadway and I-25. Nearby sits Bayer’s grand, 85-foot-tall yellow “Articulated Wall,” Bayer’s final completed work before his death in 1985.
Between that most-recognizable piece of public art, the new one and the Bayer collections at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art and Denver Art Museum, one could build a full-day cultural outing around Bayer in Denver (though the Kirkland remains closed).
“Four Chromatic Gates” follows the installation of another public sculpture, “Anaconda,” in Aspen in 2018. It marks the first new Bayer to go up in Denver in 35 years, but more are to come soon.
The Broadway Park developers are planning to install a second large-scale Bayer sculpture in the next phase of building as part of a plaza expected to be complete next year.
The unveiling of the new sculpture is another marker in the ongoing revival moment for Herbert Bayer in Colorado. It comes soon on the heels of the Bauhaus 100 celebration that brought international attention to his legacy in Aspen two years ago, and in advance of the much-anticipated December opening of the new Bayer Center on the campus of the Aspen Institute (40 acres of earthworks, sculpture and buildings that Bayer himself, of course, designed and built).
New momentum has been building for Bayer in the art and design worlds since late 2013, when the Aspen Institute opened its retrospective “The Legacy of Herbert Bayer” and announced it would no longer collect works by any artists other than Bayer, focusing solely on its artistic forbear. His step-granddaughter, Koko Bayer, a Denver based artist who partnered with the Kirkland and Broadway Park’s developers to realize the new “Four Chromatic Gates,” pointed to exhibitions curated over the past eight years by Bernard Jazzar and Lissa Ballinger in Aspen as catalysts for this renaissance, along with new scholarship on Bayer that emerged around the Bauhaus centennial conference in Aspen.
“Aspen touches the world in a way that Denver doesn’t,” Koko Bayer said. “I have seen a big resurgence of interest in Herbert over the past 10 years but it’s really been spiking in the last two or three years.”
The same aesthetic gifts that led Walter Paepcke and the city fathers of postwar Aspen to put Herbert Bayer in charge of crafting this new utopia for mind, body and spirit is now drawing passersby to pose for Instagram shots with “Four Chromatic Gates.”
“This sculpture is a perfect example of how great design is timeless,” Koko Bayer said, “but often it is not as appreciated in its own time.”
The 16-foot-tall steel sculpture was constructed from a small wooden maquette model that Bayer himself made for the “Four Chromatic Gates” idea in 1982. (Aspenites may remember the fascinating all-maquette show, focused on Bayer’s small working models, curated by Ballinger in the Paepcke Gallery in summer 2016).
The “Four Chromatic Gates” maquette is on permanent display at the Kirkland, where Bayer paintings, lithographs and sculptures are also on view in the Bauhaus gallery (of particular interest to locals, the Kirkland’s holdings include a Bayer plate based on his Aspen Institute campus earthworks).
“When we are back up and running, people will be able to go from the sculpture to the maquette to compare and contrast the two,” said Renée Albiston, associate director at Kirkland Museum
The fact that this 4-inch-tall model was on view at the Kirkland factored into the choice to finally build it in Broadway Park.
“We thought, ‘Wow, it’s so cool to be able to be at the museum and literally see it in its roughest form – like it just popped out of his head – and then you can go to Broadway Park and see it as this 16-foot-high metal thing in all its glory,” said Koko Bayer, who said the design team looked at hundreds of maquettes and designs for sculptures in search of one that suited this transit hub, where – before the pandemic – some 10,000 of commuters and travelers would pass by it (and literally through it) daily.
“The fact that it is a gate is so perfect for this transit plaza,” Koko Bayer said.
“Four Chromatic Gates” was inspired by an ancient structure that Bayer saw in Morocco, where everything had been lost to time except the basic gate outlines. He played with the idea in many designs, even realizing one – titled “Chromatic Gate” – that stands in Santa Barbara, California.
As Broadway Park expands in what developers have stopped calling the Denver Design District as new apartments, retail and office spaces rise there, Bayer’s “total work of art” ethos and Bauhaus aesthetic will inform how it looks and functions, according Dan Cohen of the developer D4 Urban.
His team has developed the project with Bayer’s work and Bauhaus ideology at the center, writing it into the tenets of their design mission from the start.
“It is a way of celebrating the legacy of this artist, but also a tool that other designers within the project could draw inspiration from – architects, landscape architects, other artists,” Cohen explained.
Cohen’s team partnered with Koko Bayer early in the process, about seven years ago, to choose what works should be fabricated and displayed and how Bayer’s ideas might help inform this 75-acre mixed-use area.
“As we were thinking about public art within our development, even thinking about design generally and streetscape design for open spaces, the ‘Articulated Wall’ has always been this iconic beacon on our property,” Cohen said. “And the more we started researching Herbert Bayer, his connection to Colorado, his influence on design more broadly, we started to draw inspiration from that.”